Our Stories: Louise Chunn

Written by Eleanor McIntosh. Posted in Our Stories.

Louise Chunn bw gimpEditor of In Style, Good Housekeeping, and ES magazine, and deputy editor of Vogue and ELLE, Louise Chunn’s writing credentials would make any fashion journalist green with envy. However, Louise describes her career path as “accidental”, although writing has always been in her veins even from a young age, when she won primary and secondary school writing competitions.

One of five children, Louise describes her childhood growing up first in Otahuhu then Parnell as “quite typical”, but felt that her Rotary Exchange to America in the final year of high school really “lit a fuse” as the country was going through an interesting time post Richard Nixon’s resignation. When she returned to NZ, Louise went to Auckland University to study History (as Journalism wasn’t available) but with no “degree of enthusiasm”, although she was the first women to become Editor of the University paper. Upon graduating, Louise freelanced for Rip it Up (a music magazine) followed by the Auckland Star, and it was at the latter that she was lucky enough to interview the likes of Tom Petty, the Ramones and Elton John. However, her front-page debut was an interview with Roger Donaldson, director of Sleeping Dogs, the first feature length film produced entirely in NZ, and the launch of Sam Neill’s movie career.

Louise then married and returned to New York state, where she worked on Cornell’s alumni magazine (her husband’s alma mater). She found it a “learning experience” and it gave her a fascinating insight into the workings of an Ivy League school. It was from there that they travelled to England with £200 in their pocket, initially staying with friends before both landed jobs. Louise recalls the London of the 80’s as being quite “relatively quiet and small”, but a hub of creativity particularly with regards to music and fashion. She quickly found her feet working for trade magazine Fashion Weekly and launching Just Seventeen, a younger and mass market magazine which soon gained a loyal following of young female Brits.

As Louise’s reputation grew, the Guardian invited her to be their women’s page Editor, which represented a huge challenge given the late 80’s post-feminist mood that characterised London. After four years, Vogue came calling and as Features Director Louise produced wide-ranging content from a whole Irish issue around the time of the Good Friday peace accord, to life swaps between women in different fields. Not being one of the British old guard she felt a “little to the side”, but similarly to The Guardian she had a great boss and as a brand with a strong history and culture of journalism, there was no shortage of contributors.
During her time with Vogue, Louise realised the value of moving to a series rather than focusing on individual unconnected articles, and how important it was to continually create different, attention-grabbing, thought leadership pieces. She also embraced opportunities no matter how daunting, including being asked to give a speech to over 400 guests in Paris at the launch of Madame Figaro, entirely in French! Clad in an Armani suit, Louise pulled off the feat with aplomb despite her limited schoolgirl French (she learnt the speech phonetically and by heart).

Louise also managed to juggle her work commitments at The Guardian and Vogue with two small children, and as an Editor she was able to reduce her working hours to a four day week. However, she never took full maternity leave and recalls there being a strong fear that your job would disappear, unlike working mothers today who share a sense of solidarity and discuss their experiences openly.

Louise went on to work for several other publications including the Evening Standard, InStyle, Good Housekeeping and Psychologies magazine, but as journalism was becoming quite problematic she saw an opportunity to change direction and move into the business sphere. It was during her time on Psychologies magazine and based on her own experiences, Louise realised that it was quite difficult for clients to know where to look for an appropriate therapist among the hundreds available online, out of which was born Welldoing.org. Using an algorithm similar to dating sites, welldoing.org asks users to complete a simple questionnaire which is used to match them with suitable therapists, as well as allowing them to access a range of content from across the mental health spectrum and blogs about others’ experiences.

Welldoing.org has gone from strength to strength especially with the Royals support and promotion of mental health, and was voted one of the top therapy websites and blogs in the UK and US in 2017. It has 100K page views per month, and works on a subscription basis, with all therapists having to hold a high level of credentials including association membership and insurance to be listed. Over the last few years, Louise has noted significant growth in the treatment of anxiety, self-care (managing your own mental health through positive reinforcement), and the value of nutrition in maintaining the mind/body balance, all areas which she feels we are only just starting to understand. She notes that there are some gender specific trends with men tending to seek help with overcoming or managing difficult relationships, and women with bolstering self-confidence as many tend to be very hard on themselves and never feel they are quite good enough.

Louise always felt that tech would play a huge part in her business and that it was the best way to use her editorial skills. Shortly after deciding to set up the business, she was lucky enough to win a place on an accelerator programme in Silicon Valley paid for by Google Ventures. In addition, Louise’s online presence greatly aided the promotion of Welldoing.org, and she leveraged her friends and connections in the media industry to spread the word via Facebook and Twitter. The NZBWN has also played its part and Louise attended a mentoring programme run by fellow member Emma Loisel, who she describes as “great at passing on knowledge in a breezy, wry fashion” that endeared her to everyone. However, she regards setting up a business as “tremendously hard” and spent a lot of time learning the practicalities by listening to podcasts, interviews with entrepreneurs, and reading the business pages.

Currently, Louise has a team of four working on Welldoing.org, two of which are full time, and is seeking seed investment of £150,000 to promote its new booking and payments system which Louise and her co-founder believe is the right direction for the site. Reflecting on her time in business, Louise recommends having a business partner from the beginning as they bring a complementary skill set and allow things to move at a much faster pace. Also, seeking investment sooner and “chancing it” can be advantageous, especially in the tech industry where young entrepreneurs often secure millions simply based on an idea.

In addition, if after doing some real research, you believe your business idea is worth devoting your working life to then you should stick at it as it can take awhile to get others on board. Louise has also been fortunate to have some amazing mentors throughout her career, including Suzanne Noble a serial entrepreneur, CEO, and founder of Frugl, who has shared her learnings as well as being supportive, encouraging and questioning where appropriate.

However, mental health is very much at the heart of Louise’s ethos, and she continues to prioritise her husband, family and friendships as she feels it is vital not to lose sight of the important things in life and become an “entrepreneurial titan”.